Tucker Foehl (Photo retrieved from CavNet)

Assistant head of school selected from ‘diverse and talented candidates’ to replace founder, head of Sonoma Academy

Assistant head of school Tucker Foehl was named in July 2019 to replace retiring founder Janet Durgin as the head of Sonoma Academy, the only independent high school in Sonoma County, beginning July 1, 2020. 

Then came COVID-19.

Sonoma Academy, like Country Day, has shifted to online learning in recent months. According to Foehl, transitioning into his new job is more challenging in this environment.

“If you asked me four months ago, I would have said that my main focus would be learning everything about Sonoma Academy,” Foehl said. “And I will continue to do that, but I also recognize that next year will be a much more intense first year, with some much higher-stakes decision-making.”

Sonoma Academy is an independent college preparatory high school in Santa Rosa with an enrollment of 330 students and a focus on diversity and commitment to learning.

According to Sonoma Academy’s announcement on July 31, Foehl was selected from “an international pool of diverse and talented candidates after a thorough year-long search process that engaged Sonoma Academy parents/guardians, students, alumni, staffulty and trustees.”

Foehl was selected because of his “commitment to independent school education, demonstrated love of learning, care for the student experience, warmth, vision and most importantly, his deep alignment with (Sonoma’s) mission and core values,” according to the announcement.

Foehl has worked at Country Day for six years, during which he led the Teaching and Learning Committee (TLC), restarted the Diversity Committee, helped increase learning support for students across the school and led the school’s Accreditation Self-Study (required by the California Association of Independent Schools to judge school quality) in 2016.

Foehl was born in Neptune, New Jersey, and raised in Mission Viejo in Southern California. He has a bachelor’s degree in American Studies and African American Studies from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, a master’s in American Studies from Yale University and a graduate certificate in Educational Leadership for Independent Schools from Johns Hopkins University.

Before coming to Country Day, Foehl taught American Studies at the Calhoun School in New York City from 2006 to 2009 and was head of academics at the Baltimore School of the Arts from 2009 to 2014.

Foehl described some of the difficulties he faces entering his job during the pandemic.

“We have a lot of big things happening, in terms of the remote learning program that’s been created for the remainder of this year and finalizing our plan to begin next school year with a schedule that will engage our community.

“The biggest challenge for me, if we are not on campus together, will be connecting with people.”

— Tucker Foehl

“The biggest challenge for me, if we are not on campus together, will be connecting with people. Connecting with students and being part of their day-to-day lives is going to be more difficult, and Sonoma Academy has a wonderful campus where so many of our students and staffulty really feel like they are at their second home.”

Foehl also stressed that one of his primary goals will be supporting the administrative team and Sonoma Academy’s community.

“Sonoma Academy is incredibly well organized with their plan right now,” he said. “I’m connecting with our strong administrative team and building  relationships with people I will rely on as I make this transition. Everyone on campus has a lot of experience working mid-crisis, with the Tubbs and Kincade fires and PG&E blackouts. A big plus of this transition is how philosophically aligned I am with them. That’s going to be very helpful as I lead a school for the first time.”

One of Foehl’s immediate goals at Sonoma Academy is getting to know the entire community.

“I’m still working on my goals with the Sonoma Academy board of trustees. My biggest goal right now is connecting with the immediate community and those beyond our campus in the Sonoma County region,” he said.

“Sonoma Academy has been working in equity and inclusion on campus this past year. We have created a new position — a director of diversity, equity, and inclusion — and this is an exciting development at our school. We also have four new board members of color, including two alums, starting on the board this summer. We were set to break ground this summer on a theater project, and while that is obviously on hold, we will hopefully continue during the next school year.”

Foehl is proud of a number of initiatives over the past six years at Country Day, including restarting and reforming the Diversity Committee. The committee’s work involves hiring and supporting faculty members and adding library books.

“One of the things Country Day should be particularly proud of is that we have a much higher percentage of faculty and administrators of color on campus than we did six years ago,” Foehl said.

Foehl said he also worked on learning support for students across the campus. 

“When I arrived, we didn’t have a learning support team, and now we have three skilled professionals across three divisions of our school,” Foehl said. “I’m really proud of that team and their exceptional work at Country Day. And I’m really proud of the work the administrative team has done, particularly our work to reshape and regenerate the mission and core values of our school.”

According to head of school Lee Thomsen, there are no plans to replace Foehl.

“The school’s needs evolve over time, and with the recent increase in enrollment, we plan to steer most of those resources to increasing faculty positions for next year,” Thomsen said in an Oct. 29 Octagon story.

Thomsen also cited Foehl’s work as a reason for not needing a replacement.

“One of the great compliments I can give him is that he moved us forward in several areas, particularly in his work as chair of the (TLC) and in building our Learning Support Team,” Thomsen said. “The school is able to sustain ourselves in those areas by building on the strong foundation he created.”

Thomsen agreed with Foehl’s sentiment on his accomplishments.

“I will forever be grateful to him for his work managing the task of our Accreditation Self-Study in my first year at the school,” Thomsen said. “It is a gigantic task to wrangle, and since I was brand new, I knew next to nothing about Country Day, and we simply could never have accomplished it without his leadership.”

Foehl said he will miss the Country Day community the most.

“We’ve developed lifelong friendships here,” Foehl said. “My son, Matteo, started in kindergarten and is leaving as a fifth grade graduate. (For) my daughter, Ruby (second grade), this is the only school she’s ever really known.

“We have lifelong friends on the faculty and staff as well as families in the Country Day community. That’s been the most wonderful thing about our six years here, and we are all really going to miss Country Day and our home in East Sacramento.”

— Nihal Gulati

Originally published in the May 26 edition of the Octagon.